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American Red Cross Assists Rural Schools and Community Health in China
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Shilpika Das
November 28, 2006

Deep in the interiors of rural China, the residents of Ningxia and Shanxi provinces live a difficult existence. With open mud pits that serve as toilets and unprotected springs that are susceptible to contamination as their most available source of water, villagers have access to only the most rudimentary water and sanitation facilities.

The American Red Cross, together with the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC), is working to develop water and hygiene facilities in these north central provinces of China. Aimed at improving the health and well-being of villagers, the American Red Cross is building essential water and sanitation facilities in addition to strengthening the capacity of these villages to develop and sustain its water supply.

Children from the local school wash their hands with soap at the new water station built by the American Red Cross in Ningxia, China. (Photo Credit: Red Cross)
Children from the local school wash their hands with soap at the new water station built by the American Red Cross in Ningxia, China. (Photo Credit: Red Cross)

New water systems are now being built that will ensure a steady supply of clean water through pipes running directly to the homes of villagers, many of whom would otherwise have to leave their homes and walk a distance to the old unprotected source. When complete, this water and sanitation project in north central China will provide safe and clean water to more than 10 villages, benefiting more than 4,800 people. Water reservoirs are being constructed to store this clean water while efforts are being made to secure and protect existing open springs – most of which are now polluted with dirt, animal feces and bacteria.

Due to the consumption of contaminated water, the residents of Ningxia and Shanxi – particularly children – have higher risks of water-borne diseases like cholera and dysentery. Unhygienic pit toilets were located close to classrooms and dining areas, while soaps and the practice of hand washing were almost non-existent. These unsanitary conditions hindered the health of students and often resulted in low attendance, especially for girls.

The American Red Cross is working to change these conditions and provide an improved uncontaminated environment, taking special measures to respond to the needs of students. The Red Cross has started installing latrines with water taps in over 17 schools, in addition to promoting hygiene and hand washing among students. Not only is there a significant improvement in the standards of these facilities, but students and teachers of these schools take pride in knowing that the Red Cross has helped provide them with something special. More than 25,000 students will benefit from these improved sanitary conditions, and will have a more conducive environment for learning.

"All the changes that have taken place in Ningxia and Shanxi, such as increased sanitation awareness and changes in hygiene behavior, are due to the efforts of the Red Cross,” said Mr. Liu, the Ningxia Red Cross Project Manager. “Through this project, we are meeting the real needs of the local people, who now have access to clean water."

In addition to equipping these villages with improved water and sanitation facilities, the American Red Cross and the RCSC are working to educate and promote long-term behavior change – reaching out to 126 villages with more than 137,520 people.

Students and teachers from local schools are involved in sanitation and cleanliness campaigns to encourage families to adopt improved hygiene behaviors, thus increasing the effectiveness of the program.

Villagers in Ningxia, China proudly display the hygiene education materials they received from the Red Cross. (Photo Credit: Red Cross)
Villagers in Ningxia, China proudly display the hygiene education materials they received from the Red Cross.
(Photo Credit: Red Cross)

The American Red Cross also has helped to set up a new training center in Ningxia, where local residents are trained in water-management issues and health awareness programs to ensure sustainable results. According to Red Cross workers, the participation of these communities at the grass root level promotes a sense of ownership within them and increases their willingness to help such programs succeed.

“The transition from what was, to what has been built through the project, is already astounding,” said Ramsey Rayyis, American Red Cross representative in China. “This project has not only resulted in improvements to the family home and their lifestyle but also to the village as a whole, instilling a new sense of community pride to keep their village clean,” added Rayyis, optimistic about the future.

Equipped with a new water supply system and the capacity to sustain it, the rural villages of Ningxia and Shanxi have been given a chance at healthier lives – and new hope to build a better and safer future for their children.

You can help those affected by countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Call 1-800-RED CROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the International Response Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation.

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